School Of Americas Closure On Agenda For 2007
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release March 2, 2007
Campaign to Close U.S. Army Latin American Training School Hopes to Succeed in 2007
Interview with Maryknoll priest Father Roy Bourgeois, founder, School of the Americas Watch, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
After 17 years of holding annual vigils and civil disobedience demanding closure of the U.S. Army's School of the Americas, or SOA, organizers are hopeful that 2007 will be the year they convince Congress to shut down the school. The School, located at Fort Benning, Ga., is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHINSEC.
Over the years, SOA Watch -- founded by Maryknoll priest and Vietnam veteran Father Roy Bourgeois -- has identified hundreds of graduates of the school who have returned to their home countries in Latin America to carry out torture, rape and murder. With Democrats now in control of Congress, activists believe they have a realistic chance of winning enough votes to cut off funding for SOA/WHINSEC and call for an investigation into human rights abuses carried out by its graduates.
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Father Bourgeois, who explains that a congressional vote on funding for the school could come as early as April. He also described SOA Watch's Latin America Initiative, which includes the opening of an office in Venezuela and visits by leaders of the movement to many nations in Latin America.
ROY BOURGEOIS: It was over a year ago that we went to Venezuela and met with President Hugo Chavez. At that meeting, we requested that Venezuela would withdraw its troops from the school. Venezuela has sent over 4,000 troops to the school in the past. And he said he would have to get back to us. It was a very cordial meeting, there in Caracas in the palacio. And we were optimistic, but just three weeks later, we received official word from Venezuela that the country made a decision to immediately withdraw their troops. And of course this was really, really good news for the movement. Word spread, gave us new hope. At the next big annual strategy meeting, we decided to implement what we call our Latin America Initiative. We said, let’s go to all the countries -- there are 16 countries that send troops to this school -- and meet with their heads of state, human rights leaders, indigenous leaders, university leaders. So we formed a delegation and off we went, first to Argentina and Uruguay, where we met with a
And then we went off to Bolivia, where we met with indigenous leaders, university leaders, human rights advocates. And on the last day, we got to meet with President Evo Morales. And that meeting was very important. What went on at that meeting…President Morales was never in the military, and Bolivia has a long history of coups. I worked as a missionary there for five years and was arrested and expelled from that country years ago. He said Bolivia would gradually withdraw its troops, so we’re very hopeful. So let me say what we’re doing now. Since then we’ve gone to Colombia, Panama, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, more recently to Nicaragua. Now, some of these countries, especially in Central America, like El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. These are countries -- like Colombia -- that are very submissive to the U.S., controlled by the empire. But what’s going on in these countries has given us a lot of hope. There’s a sea change taking place. Countries that have been dominated by their militaries for years are now bei
BETWEEN THE LINES: Have you identified any recent graduates from any of these countries?
ROY BOURGEOIS: In Colombia, we did meet with folks there who have been victims of atrocities. We met with a Jesuit there at the university doing a lot of research. Here’s the problem we have to deal with right now. Every year the Pentagon, through the Freedom of Information request that we submit, every year for years, we have been getting a complete list of the graduates, those who have been attending the school from each of these countries – their name, the country their from, and the courses they took and the dates they were at the school. Well, just two months ago, we received a long list, close to 1,000 graduates from the various countries, again from the Freedom of Information request that we sent it. The Pentagon, however, this time around, has blacked out all of the names. The countries are represented, most of them from Colombia, but they have refused to identify the soldiers from Colombia and all the other countries that are being trained here. Meanwhile, they’re saying to us that they’re being ver
BETWEEN THE LINES: Did they give you a reason for withholding the names?
ROY BOURGEOIS: They didn’t. They just said it was within their rights. Now we’re appealing it. I debated the commandant of the school this past November. Of course, he was talking about transparency. Right after his little speech about how transparent they are at the school, I pulled out the long list of hundreds of graduates whose names are now blacked out -- we have no access to who’s being trained here, only the countries that are represented.
BETWEEN THE LINES: And what did he say to that?
ROY BOURGEOIS: He was a little embarrassed, of course, but he said that decision was made by the Pentagon, ‘I’m the commandant of the school; I don’t make those kinds of decisions.’
Contact SOA Watch at (202) 234-3440 or visit the group's website at www.soaw.org
Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can
be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and
MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org . This
interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning,
syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for
the week ending March 9, 2007. This Between The Lines Q&A
was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna